Etymologically, the word "ki" derives from the Chinese word "chi." In Chinese philosophy, chi was a concept used to differentiate living from non-living things. But as Chinese philosophy developed, the concept of chi took on a wider range of meanings and interpretations. The differences between things depended not on some things having chi and others not, but rather on the principle of "li" (ri in Japanese) which determined how the chi was organized and functioned.
Ki is known by many names. Metaphysical science calls it vitalism or "vital force." Wilhelm Reich called it "orgon." Friedrich Mesmer called it "animal magnetism." Bergson called it élan vital (vital force), he Indian and Hindu yogis call it "Prana." To Chinese Kung Fu and Tai Chi practitioners, it is known as "Chi." Western science defines it as "biorhythm," while New Age thinkers simply call it "cosmic energy.
Some explain the existence of ki as a kind of "energy" that flows within the body (especially along certain channels, called "meridians"). Some claim that certain forms of exercise or concentration enable them to feel ki flowing through their bodies. Traditional Chinese medicine bases some of its therapies on ki. These mostly anecdotal accounts of ki have not been substantiated by scientific experiments. Ki may exist as an objective phenomenon, but reliable evidence to support such a view is lacking.
Ki by any other name is still ki. Dr. Wayne Dyer, in his theory of Power of Intention, speaks about your internal power of intention and how it may give you strength. He speaks of connecting to the "source" to gain internal strength. Sounds similar to ki doesn't it? Ki is just being able to harness all your internal resources and use them together at the same moment to accomplish some task.
While on the subject of Dr. Dyer, just because you have a PHD and are a successful motivational speaker (which translates to people paying you exorbitant amounts of money to tell them what they already know so they will feel vindicated) does not mean you necessarily speak the truth. For example, Dr, Dyer speaks of the energy of objects. One of his examples is that you may gain physical strength from holding an organic banana next to your heart and that you will lose physical strength by holding a CD of gangster rap next to your heart because of the energy the objects emanate. If you believe all this unproven mumbo jumbo, then I have a natural rock to sell you that will give you super strength.
Some martial artists claim to be able to demonstrate the objective existence of ki by performing various feats, such as the unbendable arm, kneeling push, immovable body, finger circle, and fist wall, which are described below. Supposedly, it is ki that permits a person to accomplish the feats. However, there are alternative explanations within the scope of physics or psychology that may account for the effects, such as subtle changes in body positioning or biases and expectations in the participants.
Some masters, such as Rod Sacharnoski, claim to be able to move people using ki, without ever touching them. However, when these claims are tested using scientific methods using subjects who are not students of the masters, the claims are proved false. The students who claim to feel the effects of the master's ki are necessarily lying, they are just being manipulated by their belief in the master' powers and the ideomotor effect.
The ideomotor effect refers to the influence of suggestion on involuntary and unconscious motor behavior. The term "ideomotor action" was first used by William B. Carpenter in 1852 in his explanation for the movements of dowser rods, movements of the pointer on Ouija boards, and the movements of Charcot's pendulum (where a small weight hanging from a string held by a person seems to answer personal questions). Carpenter argued that muscular movement may be initiated by the mind independently of volition or emotions. Suggestions may be made to the mind by others or by observations without your conscious awareness of it happening. These suggestions may influence the mind and affect motor behavior. These involuntary ideomotor movements have been used by charlatans for centuries. They have been used more recently by people such as chiropractors with their "Toftness Radiation Detector," by naturopaths using their "black boxes" in radiesthesia and radionics to harness "energy" for use in diagnosis and healing, by practitioners of Qi Gong in their "pulse diagnosis," by Deepak Chopra in his Ayurvedic medicine, and of course by advocates of ki.
Scientific tests by American psychologist William James, French chemist Michel Chevreul, English scientist Michael Faraday, and American psychologist Ray Hyman have demonstrated that many phenomena attributed to spiritual or paranormal forces, or to mysterious "energies," are actually due to ideomotor action. The tests show that honest, intelligent people may unconsciously engage in muscular activity that is consistent with their expectations and that suggestions that may guide their behavior may be given by subtle clues.
Ki is very commonly used in the Orient. They use it in all kinds of expressions and contexts, such as "genki" good health, without necessarily adopting any particular philosophical position on the existence of a specific energy.
Ki is not a native part of Western culture and so we tend to view it from a different perspective. We only use the word when referring to the internal energy of ki. Some reject the concept altogether while others accept it as a magical spiritual force. Pragmatists prefer just to use it for what usefulness they may attain from it.
Pragmatists fall into two categories: the rational believer and the rational skeptic. The rational believer views ki as an not well understood energy generated within the human body that may be developed, controlled, and used. The rational skeptic views ki as a synergy of various psychological and physical effects within the human body that has no real existence as a separate force but is a useful concept that may be developed, controlled and used.
To develop ki
To develop ki, we train to:
- Open, connect, and relax the body
- Focus, develop, and strengthen the mind
- Develop some synergistic combination of 1 and 2
Modern taekwondo students are not too concerned with the metaphysical aspects of ki; they just want to know what it is, what it does, and how may it help them. Many taekwondo practitioners view ki as an expedient concept that includes intentions, momentum, will, and attention. If students believe that ki may literally be extended, whether they understand it true meaning or not, it may give them a physical and psychological edge over an opponent. Whether you believe in the physical existence of ki or not, a belief in its physical effects will give you increased power and confidence.
Why use ki
- Increase stability, such as in the immovable body
- Increase strength, such as in the unbendable arm
- Increase power, such as an effortless yet powerful kick
- Increase sensitivity, such as sensing an attack
- Increase health, such as increased resistance to illness
- Heal, such as used in Kiatsu
- Develop non-physical contact, such as a no-touch throw
Effects of ki
The effects of ki may be explained using two concepts:
This refers to a relaxed body that allows connections to be made through the entire body and to the ground with a minimum use of tension and strain. Most of the effects of increased stability and power come from this concept, since a relaxed and properly aligned body distributes forces force throughout the body, not just in one area. For instance, in the unbendable arm, the applied force is dissipated through the large muscles of the back, not just in the arm. This concept also has a health benefit since the connectivity requires a release of body stress and tension, which allows better blood circulation, deeper breathing, etc.
This refers to a strongly focused mind. This concept is more difficult to explain than the physical concept. Everyone accepts the idea of "will" and the fact that it can clearly affect physical behavior but yet it cannot be measured in any direct way. Most people accept that the mind can affect the physical body, such as the placebo effect in medicine. Ki affects the body in the same way. If we believe something may give us power and we focus on it, it may indeed give us power.
Mental focus has two components: the effect on the self and the effect on others. It increases the connection between the various parts of the body performing an action, resulting in a greater efficiency and power. Since mental focus is perceivable by others, whether directly or via subtle clues, this intent can cause effects in others, such as breaking an opponent's concentration and thus reducing their power. Also, one may perceive an attack is imminent and step to the side resulting in a no-touch throw where the opponents momentum causes him or her to fall. The focus of an opponent who is pushing may be diminished to the point that the power they believe they are exerting is actually much less. This effect helps explain the previously described feats of ki.
Feats of ki
Here are some demonstrations used to prove the existence of ki. If you try them, you will find anyone may do them without the use of ki. Of course, ki experts will probably say that happens because the person possesses ki and does not even know it.
The classic ki feat used by most all instructors where someone tries to bend their arm when it's stiff, and succeeds. But when their arm is very relaxed, it becomes impossible to bend. It is an effect way to introduce students to ki.
To perform this feat:
- Hold your arm out horizontally with just a slight bend at the elbow, make a fist, and tighten all the muscles in your arm. Now have someone put one hand on top of your elbow and put the other hand under your wrist, and then try to bend your arm. He or she will probably be successful.
- Now, hold your arm out again and relax all the muscles in your arm, letting the wrist hang loosely, using just enough muscle to keep your arm in the air. Look ahead in the direction your arm is pointing and mentally extend your arm outward for hundreds of feet, imagine reaching and touching a distant object
- Maintain this focus and have the person try to bend your arm again. This time he or she will not be successful.
- As with all the feats, practice this slowly with a friend and build your confidence before trying it in public.
- Different visualizations work better for different people. Try thinking of your arm as a fire hose and shooting water. Or, think of yourself as being extremely thirsty and reaching across the room for a cold drink.
- Do not make your arm completely straight keep a slight bend in your elbow and orient your arm so that the thumb side of your hand is up.
- Ensure the person knows to bend the arm upwards not downwards.
- Do not be distracted by the person attempting to bend your arm. Just keep your eyes forward and maintain your image of the arm being very long.
A fascinating but subtle test of ki that demonstrates that size and strength are not that important. You and another person sit in formal kneeling position where you rest on your knees with your feet crossed behind you and then you sit back on your feet, keeping your bodies upright. Set facing each other with each others' knees about five inches apart. You then extend your wrists, and the other person holds onto them. Although the person holds tight and uses all his or her strength, you find it easy to push him or her over. Yet, when the person tries to push you, you're immoveable.
To perform this feat:
- Review the unbendable arm feat.
- Raise your arms in front of you with the wrists hanging limp, with an unbendable arm feeling in both arms.
- Have other person hold onto your forearms, at the sides. The person should try to be stable, but not push.
- Smoothly reach your arms forward until you meet resistance.
- Now, bow forward from your hips, keeping your arms extended as you bow, not letting your elbows bend.
- As the other person loses balance, gently guide him or her down.
- Stay relaxed.
- Push softly and gently. "There is nothing so strong as gentleness, and nothing is so gentle as real strength" (Ralph W. Sockman).
- Do not think of your partner as a huge, insurmountable object. Think of the person as a little baby or fragile a stick figure.
- Do not think about pushing the person over, just think about moving forward comfortably, as though nothing is in your way.
- When you are the one doing the holding, hold securely, but do not grip. Think of how you might hold a young child's arm when walking near the road. You want to hold securely, but gently enough so that it does not hurt.
- When holding, concentrate on your center of mass and settle your weight into the floor, do not think "resist." If you find yourself being pushed over, do not fight it, just keep settling into the floor as if you were melting.
- Feel sleep and relaxed. Just melt away unaware of any pushing.
This feat is difficult to believe. You stand erect, arms at your sides, and have two people grasp your forearms, one person on each side. On the count of three, they try to lift you. They do it easily. Then, you have them try it again. This time, they cannot lift you.
To perform this feat:
- Stand erect with your feet side by side, your arms at your sides.
- Have one person stand on each side of you. Have them hold onto your forearms with both hands. Caution: Make sure hold below the elbow.
- Tense the muscles in your arms, think up, and, on the count of three, have the persons lift you straight up. They should do it easily.
- Now do the lift again, but this time, relax your entire body. Feel like you are slowly sliding into the floor. Shake your hands a little before the persons grab you. Feel as though your arms are extending deep into the earth - sort of an unbendable arm in a downward direction. Think down and, on the count of three, have the persons try to lift you again. With practice, you will become impossible to lift.
- Do not worry if this feat does not work the first few times.
- The people doing the lifting should bend their knees and lift straight up, toward your shoulders.
- Relax. Keep your eyes forward. Expect that you will succeed.
To perform this feat:
- Stand erect with your feet side by side, your arms at your sides, bend arms so forearms are vertical (hands upward, elbows at side).
- Have person stand in front and try to pick you up by placing a hand under each elbow and lifting upward.
- If upper arms are kept vertical with elbows under the shoulders and you stiffen, the lift will work.
- If elbows are moved slightly forward of the shoulders and you relax, the lift will not work.
This feat is similar to super-gluing your thumb to your forefinger, so that they cannot be pulled apart. You make a circle with your thumb and forefinger by pressing their tips together. Then ask a person to pry them apart, he or she cannot do it.
To perform this feat:
- Relax your hand and arm by shaking your hand vigorously for a few seconds.
- Place the tips of your thumb and forefinger together.
- Imagine that your thumb and forefinger have been fused together, or that they are one solid ring of iron.
- Have someone try to pull them apart.
- Relax and maintain the iron image in your head as that person tries hard to pull them apart.
- Practice with a friend pulling gently and gradually increasing the pull.
- If your thumb and forefinger were actually glued together, would you have to use any muscle to keep someone from prying them apart? No, because the glue would do the work for you. So rely on the "mental glue" you are applying with your mind, and not on your muscle.
- If you have a little trouble catching the feeling, try using muscle first. Put your thumb and forefinger together and press really hard. The have someone try to pull them apart—it should be easy. Now that you know how using a lot of muscle feels, shake your hand out, and try it again using very little muscle. Feel almost as though you're ignoring the person who is trying to pry your fingers apart.
The feat of snuffing a candle without touching it or blowing on it only requires a small prop, a candle, but it look impressive. When using a hand strike or a kick straight at the flame, it only takes a quick, snapping, well-focused technique that stops just short of the flame to snuff it. This technique does require skill since the hand or foot must be fired with enough quickness and power that, when it suddenly stops, the air it has been pushing before it will continue into the flame and snuff it. It is easier to use a strike or kick that travels just above the flame to snuff it. With enough speed in the movement, the flame will be sucked out as the hand or foot passes over it.
Another impressive way to snuff a candle is by pointing your finger at it from a distance and "shooting ki" at it. This is simple to do; it only requires timing. Before the feat, place a suitable non-flammable substance at a predetermined point on the wick. During your act, light the candle, talk about the powers of ki for a predetermined amount of time, and then point at the candle and project your ki at it, the candle will go out when the flame reaches the applied substance.
To perform this feat:
- Two students stand facing each other in strong front stances, one a right stance the other a left stance. They extend their leading arms in fore fist punches. They move forward until their fists are touching. Then they force the two fists together as hard as they can, forming a fist wall.
- Now, you approach from the side, perpendicular to the fist wall, and walk through the fist wall as the two students attempt to resist your walking through the fists.
- To penetrate the fist wall, you must relax and think beyond the wall.
- Do not accept the wall's existence.
- Do not change you pace, your body tension, or anything in your posture.
- Just ignore the fist wall and walk thought it as if it did not exist.
- Think of the wall as wispy strand of spider web that is insignificant.
- Aikido Kokikai. (1999). [Online]. Available: http://www.bodymindandmodem.com [1999, December 4].
- Ki Aikido Center. (1999). [Online]. Available: http://www.ki-Aikido.com/ki.htm [1999, December 1].
- Sotnak, E. (1999). A Note on Ki. [Online]. Available: http://home.neo.lrun.com/sotnak/primer.html